On Heaven: Promoting Healthy Thoughts About the Kingdom

Imagine arriving in Heaven:

You see the light when you die, and you run down a seemingly infinite hallway so purely white that you are shielding your eyes with one arm and pumping the other to propel yourself closer to the big moment. “Finally,” you think, “I get to see what comes next… please don’t be Hell, I was good!” Breathless, you stumble to a halt in a sea of billowing greyish cloudland. Not too far off in the distance, there’s a golden gate where a bearded man is stationed. He appears shabby with wine stains on his robes. A sad cupid, really. You walk closer and the man is asleep, dozing on top of a very large book. You wake him with an awkward *ahem* and his head lurches upward, startled. A little dried slobber is on his chin. “Oh, sorry, welcome to Heaven,” he says lacklusterly. He skims through the book for about five minutes, and says, “Okay, go ahead,” as he gives you one of those “dead fish” handshakes where his wet, weak hand sloppily contorts to your moderately firm grip. The gate squeaks open and you step through. Suddenly, you have angel wings, a halo, Jesus sandals – all of the classic cinematic Heaven tropes are in place. A lot of other angels are walking/floating around with chalices of wine in hand. You bump into an ex-lover. It’s still awkward – they don’t say much. You see your roommate from sophomore year of college – you laugh about some old inside joke that has lost its flair. Worship music (an acoustic/indie/megachurch contemporary medley) has been playing in the background the whole time, and just as you start to think, “Dang, this is a weird party,” there is a record skip and the music stops. A planet-sized, faceless, bright being appears and says nothing. All of the fellow angels turn to look at it, but only half heartedly (some over their shoulders). It’s God. Everyone partially lifts their drink and kind of croaks *whoo* without much exclamation. God disappears and everything resumes. You’re there forever. 

That is not Heaven.

I don’t know if I should blame the entertainment industry or a diluted contemporary Christian culture, but for some reason I used to believe that Heaven was going to be like that total dud party described above. But, that was okay because that seemed better than Hell, right? I mean, do I really need to write a second scene about flames, demons, lakes of fire, people dying infinitely? I’ll pass. Why did I have such an imagination for Hell as a child, and not Heaven? But what will that place be like? Why do I want to go to a place that is just “a better alternative” to Hell?

I started wrestling with the image of Heaven in college, and it has taken several years to arrange my thoughts in a way worth sharing. I hope you find this more liberating than anything as I invite you to start thinking creatively about Heaven such that you long for it, and understand why Christians have sought refuge in this intangible reality for thousands of years. Before we dive in, let us seek God’s trustworthy and true Word, a primary source of the Kingdom.

The New Heavens and the New Earth

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Revelation 20:11-12

From this passage, and all of Revelation, we must understand that one day we will all come before God in judgment whether we believe or not – it’s not just “a Christian thing”. You will face the God of the universe, the Creator of all, and you will hear the multitude of Heavenly ranks cry out, “Hallelujah!” as the angels rejoice beforehand in chapter 19. Bearing this in mind, how can we then start to think about Heaven? Judgment seems terrifying and literally earth-shaking, so then what do we make of the perfect and eternal Kingdom of God that comes afterward?

The Bible Project is a superb website that has an excellent video on the book of Revelation with very helpful imagery. Leading up to Revelation 21-22, we read about the final battle which ends with evil, death, and sin conquered. Including a hilariously brief passage on the defeat of Satan – the small and cunning insect is squashed. But in the last two chapters, we are not transported to the cloudland mentioned previously. Instead, the victorious God marries the New Heavens and New Earth, where we rule in His image! Why do we separate these in our minds? The Bible clearly says that there will be a time when our material bodies and landscapes will be reset. We are pointed back to Genesis 1:28, which states, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Restoration will be complete; eternal joy is at hand!

[Note: For the sake of my thesis, I am omitting all of the implications, theology, steps, et cetera that exist between you and the Kingdom. This article is not a how-to-get-there enterprise but it is rather curated to spark creative thought about how “Heaven” may present. In addition, I will no longer be using the term “Heaven”. Instead, I will continue with the terms used in Revelation, including: the Kingdom, the New Heavens and New Earth, or the New World to come.]

1. The New Earth will be enjoyable.

After God created all things on Earth including man and woman, Genesis 1:31 states, “And God saw everything that he made, and behold, it was very good.” If (1) God created the entire universe, (2) created us in His image, (3) invited us to work and create like Him, (4) and said all these things were good, then why would these “good” things be excluded from the New Heavens and New Earth? Why then, do we like to assume that the Kingdom will be this boring cloudy platform in the sky? Revelation 21:5 states, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Clearly stated, all things are made new and order is restored. So, let us expand this idea of what “good” could present in the Kingdom.

I go to a small PCA church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that I started attending during my undergraduate years at Wake Forest University. Several years ago, the senior pastor, Ben Milner, mentioned the idea of iPhones being in the Kingdom. There was audible grumbling from the congregation as my neighbor leaned over and said, “What? No way….” Ben continued by listing many negative properties of a smartphone including but not limited to: the battery dying, phone addiction, mindless touching and scrolling, phone dependence, social media addiction, lack of physical human interaction, and body dysmorphia. These things listed, he shared, will not exist in the Kingdom. But he followed up with a proposal: why should the phone itself not exist? Why could an advanced piece of technology not exist on the New Earth, even though it ultimately has been helpful for communication, justice, productivity, and organization (to name a few). Are these not areas for which God gave us dominion in Genesis? Why would God deem our creations (which mirrors His creation of us) as rubbish?

Think about sports in the Kingdom. First, imagine football. My friend recently said to me, “I can’t wait to see what football looks like in Heaven, redeemed.” Perhaps a semi-corrupt organization such as the NFL would not be there, but why couldn’t football? Imagine two teams playing one another with perfect sportsmanship. Team A catches a winning touchdown and the players from Team B embrace the winning team with hugging and congratulations. There would be no ego, with all glory and inspiration funneling to God alone who smiles along with His human, now restored creation. This eliminates any idea of a “star quarterback” or other key figures who play for fame, money, sponsorship, and so forth. In the Kingdom, everyone playing football plays earnestly for God and fun. Now, imagine golfing. You tee off on Hole 1 at the prettiest, most glorious golf course imaginable (far better than Augusta National). Your drive wouldn’t necessarily have to be an ace every time to be counted as perfect. Instead, you hit the ball out of bounds and, excited, you run to find it for the next shot. You don’t slam your club head in the ground or yell expletives. 

My personal favorite idea to struggle with relates to music. As a musician, I have thousands of musical experiences that have shaped my playlists, my taste, what songs I learn on guitar, which songs give me heartache, and which songs heal. I am so thankful that God gave us music! Beyond the gift of music itself, consider the gift of ears to hear it, hands to play it, and legs to dance with. Not everyone is given these privileges to enjoy, hear, and dance to music, so I pray thankfully that God privileged me to be drawn so near to music. So how could music be presented in the Kingdom? Yes, God originally designed music for worship. However, the oldest worship known are in the book of Psalms! Are they all happy praises? No! There are also psalms of lament, royalty, thanksgiving, and wisdom. And the kicker is there are practically infinite ways to express these. We are given freedom to play them in any key, any tempo, any way imaginable. God did not provide sheet music for each Psalm. My point: Kingdom music is not confined to my Sunday worship playlist. I believe any music that brings delight to my ears and turns me to God’s free love will be present in the Kingdom. Of course, like the iPhone, the songs of this earth will be trimmed of their sin, but this does not exclude the beautiful melodies and harmonies of music made by secular artists. Imagine hearing a redeemed, perfect version of your favorite song of any genre. Imagine singing to the Father a song of worship to the tune of a song by nobel-prize winning Bob Dylan, or with a groovy B.B. King ballad and a John Mayer guitar solo. Whenever I hear Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, the final instrumental almost brings me to tears. The bending of the D major chord at 3:16 certainly reminds me of God’s gift of music. The only catch: it will be better in the Kingdom. Totally perfected.

I ask that you consider these things as possibly being in the Kingdom, not to make the point that the Kingdom has “things” for us, or that we need to be entertained, but rather that these things are, at their core, good! And we can show glory to the Father by delighting in Him through these modes of fun and fellowship on the New Earth. It will not be a place of boredom, discontentment, disappointment, and anxious, fiddling fingers. Whenever I practice this thought exercise, I have to remind myself that these are not expectations I am setting on God’s development of the New World. On the contrary, I am merely delighting in the God of infinite ability and creativity.

2. We will not be disappointed.

[Re-read Revelation 21]

When God creates the New Heavens and New Earth, the order of old will be passed away, which means so too will our minds and bodies be completely changed into something new, restored to how we were originally created. Death and sin will be conquered and we will no longer be concerned with our sinful past. We will actually have no memory of sin; we will be totally incapable of sinning or desiring to sin. The struggle of making a virtuous (vs. sinful) choice will be wholly dissipated before stepping foot in the Kingdom. 

What a relief this was to hear a few years ago! How dreadful would it be to enter the New Earth thinking about the millions of sins we committed previously? Imagine standing before Jesus at His right hand in the very throne room of God (Rev. 4) and concerning yourself with your selfish, greedy, prideful, envious, petty past self. Imagine being paraded in with all of Jesus’ disciples by your side before the holiness of Christ and thinking about who is and is not there too. Thoughts like the following will be inoperable: 

  • “Where’s my cousin? He was a good guy…”
  • “My grandmother didn’t make it? Well this is unfair.”
  • “If my best friend doesn’t show up, this sucks.” 

Like it’s about you, and your preferences! How silly. Be encouraged that your renewed mind will only be wired to face the Father, rejoice, and delight in His presence. Your mind will no longer be compatible with disappointment. You will have no reservation, hesitation, disengagement, or better ideas than what is presented in the Kingdom. Remember this when you start to doubt if it will live up to your standard or imagination: The Kingdom will be perfect and exceeds anything you can even possibly construct. I find it comforting that I will no longer have a prideful brain.

3. The Mystery of the Feast.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Ephesians 1: 7-10

“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29

As the Luke verse suggests, we will be gathered by the grace and knowledge of the Lord to recline with Him over a glorious, unimaginable feast that lasts forever! The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism states the chief end of man is “To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.” This must be our only end – to bask in His glory and enjoy Him who created us, over the eternal feast! This is our one clear, outlined end. However, we must also accept the entangled mystery presented by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians above. The works of God are paradoxically clear and mysterious, beyond our conception. At the end of the day, we are not given the privilege of seeing the eternal feast on this side of the Kingdom. We must rely on His mysterious love for us. Trust and faith will take us to the table with Him, not by “what we are owed”, but by His debt forgiveness, grace alone. Do not forget we are dust, and are not deserving of His perfect Kingdom. I long to experience that love in person, whether iPhones or football are there or not.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

Conclusion

I love the way C.S. Lewis outlines the doorsteps of the New Earth in The Great Divorce. Through multiple characters, it is revealed that those enslaved to the idea of “What does Heaven offer me?” truly do not know the Father and are actually trapped in Hell. They are married to their rights, possessions, ideas, and are indeed in need of a divorce from sin so they may meet their perfect groom, Jesus. The same Jesus who has invited us into paradise to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords through fellowship together as one body, finally united with Jesus as the Head. 

Until then, onwards and upwards. To the King!

 

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